John Granato: It's time for a change in the NCAA transfer rules

Baker Mayfield should be able to make money off his jersey sales. Brett Deering/Getty Images

In his introductory Titan’s press conference Mike Vrabel made the huge mistake of saying something we all knew already but has rarely been spoken by anyone in the NFL in public:

College football is the NFL’s farm system.

And water’s wet. And the sky is blue.

That dirty little secret is something an NFL coach should never utter in public. Now every millionaire college coach is going to be asked about the slave mentality of a system that makes billions in revenue yet won’t pay its players.

It’s a system that allows that millionaire coach to go make millions more at another institution even though he may have multiple years left on his contract, but a player who wants to transfer to that same school has to sit out a year before he can play there for free.

It’s a system that will allow a swimmer, volleyball player or tennis player to transfer anywhere and play the following season but the basketball and football player have to sit out a year before they can play again.

It’s a system that allows a millionaire coach to take another job in his conference or even at his school’s arch rival but that same coach can block a player from transferring to any school for any reason.

It’s a system that allows a student with an academic scholarship to make as much money in any endeavor he/she chooses but the athlete on scholarship can’t have a job or benefit in any way from his/her relative fame.

But it’s also a system that will change.

I spoke to a high ranking official at the NCAA and he said

there is a lot of discussion that appears to be gaining momentum among coaches, athletic directors, conference officials and presidents. The system is broken and archaic. It needs a face lift.

For starters there’s an inherent inequality amongst scholarship athletes. For the most part, non-revenue sports student-athletes can transfer without the penalty of having to sit a year while football and basketball players have to sit a year before they can play again.

There are three proposals for change that are the most popular right now:

  1. Any athlete in any sport who transfers sits a year.

  2. One free transfer for every athlete.

  3. Any athlete that has good academic standing and is on course to graduate can transfer as long as the transfer will not set the athlete’s graduation back.

The third option is gaining steam but there is the fear that this option will have socioeconomic consequences. Kids that come from richer backgrounds with better educational facilities will have a leg up on kids who grow up in tougher circumstances.

Some will say “that’s life” but should the NCAA penalize the kids who didn’t have the same educational advantages as others? That’s something that will be discussed before they adopt this rule.

I’m betting that point will be a stickler for many and they’ll adopt the first option where everyone in every sport will sit a year. It’s the kind of move that has made the NCAA what it is today; scared of its own shadow.

While that will change, the draft policy will not. If a basketball or football player decides to enter the draft and doesn’t get drafted he can no longer participate at the NCAA level. My question has always been “Why?”

In baseball, not only can you come back if you don’t get drafted, you can be the top pick in the draft and still play the following college season. It is a huge bargaining chip for the player in contract negotiations. Why is this not an option for the basketball and football player?

The NCAA’s argument is that it makes it tough on the coaches in those sports with scholarship limitations to know who will be back and who won’t be.

Football has 85 scholarships. Basketball has 13. Baseball has 11.7. How come the baseball coach can manage his roster while the other coaches can’t?

The other issue is that when a player goes into draft mode he normally puts school behind him. He’s done with college. It’s tough to prepare for the combine and workouts and still keep academic standing.

There’s also the agent issue. Once a player signs with an agent he’s ineligible to play college ball.

To me though, if he keeps his grades up, stays on course to graduate and doesn’t sign with an agent, let that athlete play college ball and continue his college education. It’ll be the rare student-athlete that can do something like that so reward him for it. Don’t take away his dream.

I’m sure the NFL and NBA would hate a rule like that. They don’t want the player to have any leverage. I know MLB hates it. But the NCAA isn’t here to please those leagues. Screw ‘em. The NFL and NBA have a free farm system in college football and basketball. Make ‘em squirm.

Then there’s the dumbest, most asinine, most egregious rule of all: a coach’s ability to block a player from transferring to another school. No one has been able to explain this one to me.

This actually happened almost five years ago: Oklahoma State quarterback Wes Lunt decided to leave the school and play elsewhere.

Here’s what SB Nation reported on May 17, 2013:

The school has restricted Lunt from transferring to any school in the SEC, Pac-12 or Big 12, per Zack Kerker, sports director at 1450 AM in Illinois. Lunt also won't be allowed to transfer to Southern Mississippi, where his former offensive coordinator Todd Monken is now the head coach, per Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports. Central Michigan, a future opponent of Oklahoma State, is also reportedly on the blocked list, according to Jimmie Tramel of the Tulsa World.That's 37 schools.


There is no logical explanation for this kind of limitation on the kid. A block of an intra-conference transfer is at least a little understandable. A coach doesn’t want to play one of his former players every year. OK. I get that. It’s BS but I get it. Mike Gundy could take the job at his arch rival OU and no one would say a word but not a player. No sir. That would be an unfair advantage. It’s a load of crap.

Right now the NCAA leaves it up to the conferences to decide their “block” policy. Some conferences will allow you to transfer within the conference but you have to sit two years. Again. Outrageous.

The NCAA needs to grow a pair and tell the conferences that they can only block a player from transferring within his own conference and it can only be a year. And that’s it. No other school should be off limits for a transfer.

And finally should the student-athlete be paid? Full disclosure: I have a son playing college football. Of course I’d love for him to get paid. What parent wouldn’t?

All players get stipends now to cover the cost of living. That’s relatively new and a good start. If they can’t work and the cafeteria is closed they should have something to at least be able to feed themselves.

Many are opposed to paying players. Anyone who’s paying for college knows how expensive it is. The player should take advantage of that education and better himself. That’s payment enough they say.

Plus the fact that not every football and basketball program is flush with cash. Rice does not make as much on athletics as Texas. That’s obvious. Many schools would have to shut down programs to afford payments to the athletes.

How about letting the market dictate who gets paid and who doesn’t? Why can the University of Oklahoma make money off No. 6 jerseys but Baker Mayfield can’t be paid for signing autographs or representing a car dealer in Norman?

One argument says that that would be unfair to  the the volleyball player and the right guard on the football team. They are not as popular as Baker. They couldn’t make the same amount of money. At UConn the women’s basketball players would probably have more endorsements than the football players. Oh well. They deserve it. They’re better at what they do.

If you’re worried about players going to the highest bidder I’ve got news for you. They already are. You only hear about it when they get caught.

Let’s stop the farce that’s happening every day in college athletics. Let’s protect the athlete instead of the pro leagues and the college coaches. Let’s make the NCAA do what it set out to do in 1906; represent the student-athlete.




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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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